Today I’ll talk about Russian use of Lapis Lazuli. A single post is not enough to talk about the magnificent art the Russian people has given the world. In the Magnificent Blue Russia we’ll talk in detail about the exquisite Lapis Lazuli Imperial Egg, the magnificent Hermitage Urns and of course we couldn’t forget Saint Andrei Rublev with its famous icon of the Trinity.
Russia has six known lapis mines: Lake Baikal at Malo-Bystrinskoie; the Sljudjanka River; near the Talaja, Malaja, and also the Bistraja Rivers; and in Siberia at the Alibert mines of the Pamirs.
The Lake Baikal is the worlds deepest freshwater lake. It has 400 miles long and thirty miles wide. Volcanic explosion formed this lake. The caves of Lapis Lazuli are along the Angara River.
The Sljujanksa River also flows into Lake Baikal. The Lapis Lazuli caves are on the right slope of this river.
The Malo-Bystrinskoie site is fourteen miles from the right slope of the Lazurnaja River. The Kirghiz and Tadjik tribes are the nearby tribes to these sites.
The mines on the Talaja, Malaja and the Bistraja Rivers have an extremely difficult route. The lapis is in a steep wall of marble and gneiss, bordering an immense glacier.
Peter Carl Faberge
According to Wikipedia, the first Easter egg was commissioned in 1885 by Russian Czar Alexander III from craftsman Peter Carl Faberge. It was an Easter gift for his wife the Empress Maria Fedorovna.
This egg had a gold yolk, gold hen, miniature diamond crown and also a ruby egg inside. The Empress loved the gift so much that the czar decided to commission a new egg every Easter.
After the czar Alexander III died in 1894, his son Nicholas continued the tradition.
Lapis Lazuli Imperial Egg
Faberge designed the Lapis Lazuli Imperial Egg (1912)with six sections of overlay. Encrusting the egg with lacy, solid gold tracing in the style of Louis IV cage work and motifs of shells, scrolls, and also basket of diamonds ornamented the oval egg.
It also had inscribed the initials of A.F on top for Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna into a piece of diamond monogram. This was a symbol of the Imperial Crown of Russia.
The gifts from king to queen usually had a surprise inside. This time the surprise was a picture frame that held the image of their eight year old son Alexis. The frame was on top of a Lapis Lazuli base. Hundreds of diamonds set into the Russian double headed Imperial Eagle surrounded the miniature painting.
This Imperial Egg resides in the Virginia Museum of Fine arts.
The workshops of Faberge used lapis from both the mines of Afghanistan and Siberia. Faberge had offices in Odessa, Moscow, Kiev, St. Petersburg and also in London. Over 500 workmen cut jewels for Faberge by 1906.
Faberge and his younger brother Agathon sketched designs as well as Henrik Wigstrom. Watteau and Boucher were the ones in charge of painting the eggs.
Scythian art influenced Faberge. Faberge houses started the collection of Imperial eggs in 1885. He also made picture frames, small farm animals, flowers, pendants, crosses, and also boxes. Magnificent Faberge pendants like the exquisite pendant you can find in your favorite Nammu store.
The Russian revolution closed the Faberge houses in 1917 except the London office. He continued his work with the requests of the royals of Europe. They requested jewelry with lapis as a companion stone. Wealthy clients included Napoleon III, cabinet maker Tahan who has a box of lapis at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and also Queen Marie of Romania.
Faberge had been the imperial jeweler to three czars of Russia, Alexander II, Alexander III and also Nicholas II. He died at 74 on September 14, 1920. His tombstone read:Charles Faberge, jeweler to the Russian Court Click To Tweet
Theophanes the Greek
The artist Theophanes the Greek (1330-1405-09) moved to the monastic complex of Novgorod and worked in Russia for about twenty five years. Pigments were exchanged along with artists. The most precious pigments maybe exchanged for furs and amber. One of Theophanes most famous icon was “The Virgin of the Don” painted in 1392.
Legend claims it was carried to war at the great Battle of Kulikovo when the Russians inflicted a dramatic defeat on the Mongols, thanks to the icon. The tenderness of the mother and child on one side of the panel is matched by the simplicity of the Dormition on the other. When the two sides were being cleaned the restorers found that Lapis Lazuli had been used for all its blue shades.
Lapis Lazuli was an ingredient reserved for paintings of special importance, but in Russia it would have been even more highly regarded, perhaps brought north up the Volga by Armenian entrepreneurs.
Andrei Rublev (1360’s-1430’s) is considered to be one of the greatest medieval Russian painter of orthodox icons and also frescos. The first mention of Rublev is in 1405 when he decorated icons and frescos for the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Moscow Kremlin. He painted the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir in 1408 as well as the Trinity Cathedral with Danii Cherni.
He also painted the frescoes of the savior Cathedral. Rublev also believed to have painted at least one of the miniatures in the Khitrovo Gospels.
The most emblematic work that is entirely his is the icon of The Trinity. It is his most famous work and the most famous of all Russian icons. It is regarded as one of the highest achievements of Russian Art.
Rublev used Lapis Lazuli pigment spectacularly in the large icon (142 x 114 centimeters) of the Old Testament Trinity. We can also find this scene in the Benedictine church of St. Savin.
Rublev´s Trinity was painted for Trinity Cathedral at Troitse-Sergeyeva Lavra, now Zagorsk. The communists confiscated it and put it in the Tretyakov, while a huge copy is now in the old cathedral.
It must be one of the most copied icons of all time.
According to the Genesis, the Lord with three superior beings came to visit the ninety-nine year old Abraham while he was camping in the plains of Mamre. He brought them water and ordered cakes and he also ordered a young man to kill a calf and dress it for the visitors.
Behind the table in the painting is the famous Tree of marme always depicted with a lower branch cut off because Abraham needed it for his camp fire. Seated at the table are the three beings. Three Angels dressed most beautifully and expensively in strong Lapis Lazuli robes. The majestic translucency of the pigment glowing from their garments.
Rublev would have learnt to use the precious pigment in the workshop of Theophanes the Greek. Who himself learnt it from masters in Constantinople and also from the Byzantine world.
The rarity of the pigment in icon painting testifies both to the superiority of Rublev as a painter, and also his recognition of the superlative qualities of his pigment.
Icon painting is alive and well today, in both west and post Communist east.
The painting is also full of symbolism and is interpreted as an icon of the Holy Trinity. The Trinity is also considered a Russian National patrimony.
The Russian Orthodox Church canonized Rublev as a Saint in 1988, celebrating his feast day on on the29th of January.
At the end of the Great Hall of the Winter Palace you can find a gigantic, square, Lapis Lazuli urn positioned on a dais. The lapis on the Hermitage Urns is superb. Their size, symbolic of the vastness of Imperial Russia, the suffering of miners, the toil of stone cutters, the terrible slog of those who manipulated the objects over land, river and canal, dragged them up the Jordan staircase on the orders of Tsar Nicholas I.
This huge urn was not made from one solid lump of lapis. Instead, a huge lump of cheap marble that had been veneered with lapis. It is fact ‘faceted’ in Ekaterinburg in the Urals in the 1830s. The craftsmanship was superb. The lapis was sliced incredibly thin and perfectly matched. There is a century old technique with old string and water. But what sort of tools were available to craftsmen in the Tsar´s ‘faceting factories` where the urn was made.
Erik Laksmn, a young geologist, in exile from the Tsarist system of justice was deported to the Nerchinsk region. He was the one who discovered Lapis Lazuli in 1785 on the Banks of the River Sludianka.
A stone cutting factory was established in 1787 at Kolyvan. Skilled craftsmen were experts at cutting the best parts of the Lapis lazuli, an almost purplish blue. It was dispatched to Ekaterinburg for pasting to the great urns demanded by the Tsars for the Jordan Staircase. The two thousand kilometer journey was nearly as long as that from Badakhshan to the Florentine masters. This journey was mostly accomplished in winter over the frozen steppe, then via frozen rivers and also canals.
The veneering technique became known as “Russian Mosaic”. The fragments could be fixed to stone or metal and imperfections ground down and polished. Some vases took as much as twenty years to complete.
I can keep going and going with the Magnificence of Russian Art. Like I said in the beginning, a single post isn’t enough. I hope you also enjoyed!